MUSIC REVIEW : A Raucous Finale From Philharmonic


The last program of the Philharmonic season at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion ended with a predictable bang. At least it wasn’t a familiar bang.

It was a big, bombastic, whomping, brassy, delayed-climax bang--the sort of cadence we might expect from Wagner in one of his more simplistic moods. But it came courtesy of George Enescu and his Symphony No. 1.

The Romanian composer wrote it in 1905, when he was a precocious 24. The Philharmonic didn’t get around to playing it until Friday night. And even that belated premiere might not have taken place without the positive presence of Lawrence Foster, who is conducting a virtual one-maestro crusade to rescue Enescu from not-so-benign neglect.


It is easy to admire Foster’s missionary zeal. It is always interesting to hear a vital performance of music ordinarily consigned to textbooks or, at best, confined to an obscure recording. Still, it would be less than realistic in this instance to pretend that a masterpiece has been exhumed.

Although the symphony in question lasts only half an hour, it doesn’t pack a lot of compelling material into that space. There seems to be much ado here about little.

The outer movements meander in raucous agitation, shifting harmonic gears with nervous chromatic zeal and fastidiously exploring linear detours that tend to end in cul-de-sacs. The texture is often thick, the focus blurry.

The slow movement, which often succumbs to the Bayreuth blahs, does a lot of shimmering and sighing in a futile quest of melodic fulfillment. It is futuristic only in the sense that it sounds like what we regard today as movie music.

Foster approached the complex, ungrateful challenge with infectious energy, with obvious devotion to the cause and with conviction to match. The Philharmonic responded valiantly to his urgent urgings, even though the communal high spirits and high decibels were not always reinforced with high precision.

Ironically, the first half of the evening offered inferior music making in superior music. The guest conductor opened the valedictory with crisp, somewhat perfunctory attention to Mozart’s “Haffner” Symphony. Then he provided dutiful rather than beautiful accompaniment for Jean-Bernard Pommier in Mozart’s D-minor Concerto, K. 466.


The French pianist, celebrating his Music Center debut with the Philharmonic, found Mozart’s essential demands for grace, charm and elegance less than congenial. This seemed to be a major case of interpretive miscasting.

Pommier’s playing revealed plenty of flash, plenty of easy dexterity, plenty of modern objectivity. At the same time, it was awfully cold, stubbornly tough and oddly brittle. There was hardly any elasticity of phrasing here, hardly any dynamic subtlety.

This was Mozart minus smiles, minus sentiment, minus poetry. As such, it wasn’t Mozart at all.

The concert, incidentally, was dedicated to the memory of Mieczyslaw Horszowski, the ultra-sensitive pianist who died May 22 at age 100. In context, that seemed like a sad joke.